COLUMBIA — It was a tricky question but Jessra Johnson had the perfect answer.
She was asked if she agreed with Missouri women’s basketball coach Cindy Stein’s earlier criticism that her team lacked energy in its 56-40 loss to Kansas State.
“Yes, I agree with everything Coach Stein ever says,” she deadpanned.
That flash of dry humor is something teammates are used to. Johnson is constantly cracking jokes and keeping her teammates amused whether it is during practice, before a game or away from basketball.
“I’m the kind of person that likes to have fun when I play, and to have fun in general, so I’m always out there joking around,” Johnson said.
Johnson makes her teammates laugh with a wisecrack, but she doesn’t always need one. Sometimes she can set someone into stitches with only a glance.
“It’s just in her face,” junior guard Alyssa Hollins said. “Something will happen and you’ll look at her and she’ll cut her eyes back and forth like ‘Oh my god, did you just see that?’ It’s real goofy.”
Johnson said she doesn’t have any running gags going with her teammates, so she always has to be thinking of something new. Before every game she scans the arena looking for any “new material” she can find.
“I’m always observing stuff,” Johnson said. “I’ll be like ‘Look at that woman over there with all her Tiger gear on,’ just little things that I want someone else to notice.”
Johnson’s ability to keep the team loose would be a great asset for any squad, but it’s especially good for a young MU team going through a rough season. Johnson can still keep things light during frustrating times.
“It helps, when sometimes, when the chips are down, someone can still make you laugh,” Stein said.
Johnson made freshman point guard RaeShara Brown’s transition to MU easier by constantly joking from the second she met Brown.
Johnson’s sense of humor and easygoing personality made Brown immediately feel welcome at MU.
“When you get here and you got a person like that, you can have fun with and helps you feel comfortable, it’s easy for you to open yourself up to the team,” Brown said. “You come in instantly feeling like you’re a part and you’re wanted.”
As a freshman last year, Johnson made mistakes in games like any other freshman would. She also made mistakes by sometimes telling jokes when she shouldn’t have. Like a good comedian, Johnson had to learn the proper timing.
“She might of had a couple of times last year when we’re in the locker after a loss, and she’ll try to make a joke and it’s not taken very well by the rest of the team,” Hollins said. “This year, she’s figured it out.”
While Johnson’s sense of humor is something Stein is glad to have, she said it doesn’t always come out at the right moments. She wants her team to be loose, but she is glad that Johnson has learned when to keep her funny quip to herself during practice.
“There is a point where you need everyone’s focus,” Stein said. “She is very, very funny, but she can ruin a moment too, and she doesn’t do that much anymore. She has learned when it’s appropriate to have a side comment. She takes it seriously, she wants to do what’s best.”
Teammates aren’t the only ones who enjoy Johnson’s comedy. Stein appreciates Johnson’s sense of humor and loves listening to the sophomore forward’s jokes as long they come at the right time.
“She just has a funny way of looking at things sometimes and pointing things out that you maybe didn’t notice,” Stein said. “She just has a really good sense of humor, she makes me laugh every day.”